Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

QUALITY INSTRUCTION: Solving the mystery

I sat on the bench outside my principal's office.  I held my iobserve print out of my goals, my evaluation report form my school district requires, complete with colored graphs and reflection statements, and copies of the lesson plans (Marzano strategies identified in color) I had prepared and my principal had observed.  While waiting, I reflected on how the teacher evaluation process has changed over the last 5-7 years.  Five years prior, I had presented anecdotal data to a different principal in order to document my students' successes and mine as a teacher. 
What I had prepared for this evaluation conference fell just short of my master's final theses, and my conference with my principal?  Well, I felt like I was defending my doctoral thesis...okay so I exaggerate; but, it sure did feel that way!

Best practice, brain-based teaching strategies, Madeline Hunter, whole language, Multiple Intelligences, reading/writing/math workshop lesson structures...These buzz words all describe strategies for good teaching and successful student learning.  Marzano's work is part of that list.  What is powerful about Marzano's research and how it has been used in teacher evaluations all over the country is that it gives teachers a framework for describing, discussing, and defending their teaching practices.  It also gives administrator's a framework for observation.  It spells out, succinctly, what they should expect to see from teachers and students during classroom observations and walk-throughs. 

As a literacy coach, coaching teachers in a voluntary model on quality instruction practices in their literacy workshops, I saw first hand the empowerment teachers feel when they can identify and then reflect on their teaching strategies.   One of the difficulties I ran into as a coach is that teachers often had a hard time identifying what they did to make a lesson "work."  They knew if it had or hadn't worked, and most often could describe why it didn't work, but not with a great degree of specificity.  Outside of me telling them "the answer," which is as far from coaching as a coach can get, they needed an easy-to-go-to resource at their finger tips.  They needed to be able to say I think this lesson worked because "I used a classroom game to review the long division process!" (Marzano, design question # 3).  So I created the "easy-to-go-to resources."  And, I put it into the hands of my coachees and the new teachers I was mentoring!

The reaction was inspiring.  It changed the depth of our coaching conversations, as well as the conversations they had with their administrators. 

Now, I'm back in the classroom.  I've loaned my ringed Quality Instruction Tool out to new teachers.  It has helped them have better evaluative conferences with their administrators.  Remember me on the bench outside my principal's office?  Well, that conference went well.  I was pleased with myself and my efforts.  However, my administrator didn't understand something she had seen in my classroom.  She questioned me.  I was able to explain my choices, reflectively, and point to best practice "evidence" because I had my Quality Instruction Tool with me.  We both learned something that afternoon!
Teach on, my friends!

Be sure to check out the tool I created!


Imagine: Combining a Book, a Dream, & a Photo

At the beginning of each school year, I always look for THAT read aloud, the quintessential back-to-school book that inspires my students, and leads to good talk, writing or art.  This year, I found Imagine by Bart Vivian.

This short but gorgeous book is about taking the everyday "stuff" and imagining it to be something different.  Some illustrations turn a tree house into a castle.  Others are more about children dreaming about their futures...a girl watches the ballerina in her jewelry box and imagines herself on stage as a prima ballerina.  A boy sees a fire truck and imagines himself as a fireman rescuing someone from a burning building. 

The pattern of the book adds to the story. The real life  objects are in black and white.  Turn the page, and the dreams, wishes or fantasies are in full color.

I couldn't wait to share this book.  So on the second day of school, with my third and fourth graders on the carpet in front of me, we read it together.  We discussed the pattern of the book, the illustrations, and we cleared up vocabulary.  When we say the word dream,  it has multiple meanings.  So we talked about hopes and wishes and how they might be different from daydreams or fantasies.  Then, we talked about how all of these are different from the type of dreams we have when we're asleep. 

I gave each student a thought bubble which they covered with artwork about their hopes for their futures or their daydream fantasies.  One child wanted to live at Hogwarts.  One of my boys wants to live in a Pokémon world.  Another child drew about having her own animal rescue. 

While students were creating, I took their pictures with my iPad. Another student helped me use a photo editing app to create a dream-like appearance.  All of that led to this:

My students decided the photos should be in black and white and their dreams in color, just like the book.  

My students and I heartily recommend this book as a beginning-of-the-school-year read.  If you've used this book, I would love to hear about any extensions you did with your students in the comments below. 

Teach on, my friends!
@ Wild Child Designs


Ten on Ten in Six Words

Greetings! It is Thursday, the day before Friday...the first Thursday of the new school year.  It has been exciting. It has been fun.  It has been exhausting...TGIF!

 On the tenth of each month, I'm going to be sharing 10 pictures that reflect the current state of my life.  Because I LOVE a good challenge, I will be writing about each picture using a six-word story. If you haven't tried six-word stories with your students yet, consider doing it! It's definitely a creative learning experience.

Back to acting dorky for kids...
Time is a harsh task master...

District in between curriculum adoption...stress...

Pilot and review new writing units...

Taming chaos, creating order...damn laughable...

I will persevere and ride on...
Unbalanced habits, no bikini body here...
Planning and cooking to help dad...

Pull the covers over my head...

Saturday- a new day-celebrate autumn...
Teach on, my friends!
I LOVE photography! I LOVE using photography with my students.  I will be sharing a new read aloud book I discovered, along with an accompanying photo project this weekend, so be sure to check back.  



DRUMROLL PLEASE! The number one reason I LOVE teaching is...FREE BIRTHDAY CUPCAKES!  Not really, but they help.  I have done so much reading about the power of gratitude.  Writing these blog posts for the last ten days have made me realize how grateful I am for my professional life, my calling.  Whether it's having purposeful fun with students or dramatizing the latest and greatest read aloud I've discovered, I'm where I belong.  My first week in a classroom, eons and eons ago, in a time far, far away, I told my mom that teaching wouldn't be "forever" for me.  She didn't say much, just nodded.  Twenty-four years later, I think mom knew best and just kept it to herself.  With the political muck and drama in education right now, it's so easy to lose sight of our purpose.  Thank you for helping me reaffirm mine! 
Teach on, friends!  Tracy @ Wild Child Designs
My teacher heroes:

<3 U grandma and mom!
If you've enjoyed the posters from my top ten blog posts, check out this link!  They are motivational posters, complete with famous quotations, on-demand writing prompts and graphic organizers. There are NINE posters & on-demand prompts, one for September through April. 


George Bernard Shaw said, "We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility of our future." As a teacher, I say, "Right on, George!"  I love my profession, my life's work, because I am a life-long learner.  I cultivate life-long learners.  I share heavily in the responsibility of future generations.  Think of a pond, calm and placid, and imagine throwing a stone into that pond.  Can you see the ripples?  That's what we do as educators.  And on my hardest days, when I feel utterly defeated and question my sanity and career choice, I try to think about the impact that I may have had on a child that I know nothing about.  We all have been there.  We all have felt defeat.  But, we all have opportunities that no other career field has. Think about your impact.  It means everything, especially now.
Imagine yourself-
A pebble-
dove gray smooth,
gently tossed
into air
landing in still water,
a mirrored pond,
reflecting sky, cotton ball clouds,
buttered sun,
and faces peering in...
dove gray
and spherically smooth,
you plop,
skimming the surface,
barely creating a splash.
Oh, but the ripples begin-
small at first
a seemingly
insignificant impact
on a mirrored surface;
but those rippled circles
grow and grow
like watery sound waves,
ruffling sky, clouds, sun, faces-
so that they change,
blend and bubble
from center to shore.
And the quick-silver water
washes you tenderly
toward sandy silt
to the heart of the pond
where you will endure
and reflect robin's egg sky...
cotton ball clouds...
butter sun...
and children's faces,
peering in.
By Tracy Willis  
copyright 2015 Tracy Willis 




Reason # 3: INTENSE Observation

“Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration's shove or society's kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It's all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”   ---Susan Sontag

Reason #3: INTENSE Observation.  As a teacher, I get to intensely observe my students and their learning.  In fact, my success as a teacher DEMANDS that I cultivate this skill.  Even better, I get excited about teaching my students to be "stay eager."  If Sontag is right, we educators are cultivating vitality in our learners.  This is exciting.  It gives us purpose. 

Mom & me: Two teachers, pre-Alzheimer's Disease.
A new mystery sale is going on in my store. Check it out! .


Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you’ve finished just to stay near it.” Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief.
I was that kid in school who always had her nose in a book.  I was like that at home, too.  As an adult, I have difficulty reading during the school year because I don't read books in small chunks.  I become absorbed and read a book from cover to cover, usually in one to two sittings.  It is not unusual for me to discover that it is 3:30 a.m., on a work night, as I finish the book I've been buried in for the entire night.  I was also the kid who needed to own the books I loved.  I'm that kind of adult, too.
So, teaching helps feed this obsession of mine.  I get to cultivate this passion in my students.  My proudest moments as a teacher are when students have grown up and come back to tell me that I taught them to love love love books.  Nothing makes me prouder, because learning to be a critical reader means learning to think.  And learning to think means that students will be contributing members of society. 
I love to read.  I love teaching students to read.  What's on your night stand right now?  What books are you passionate about?  Share!
                                 Mom and me: Two teachers, pre-Alzheimer's Disease. <3